An Apple a Day

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

As summer comes to an end and the mornings are wet with dew, the apples trees in the orchard hang heavy with laden branches of red, pink, green, and even purple fruit.

The apple orchard here at Trill Farm was planted back in 2008 with 19 different varieties of apple. Some, like the Discovery and Beauty of Bath, with its bright pink skin and pink-stained flesh, are early eaters and have been ready since August. Others, like the small, sweet Winston, will not be ready until November and will last throughout the winter.

There are thought to be as many as 3000 different varieties of apple in the UK alone; certainly enough that you could eat a different apple with your lunch every day for at least 6 years. Historically, landowners, farmers and smallholders would develop their own local varieties, for eating, cooking or making cider, and care for them in small orchards with careful pruning. Since the end of the Second World War, many orchards have been lost through neglect or removal for pasture or building, and with them, the apple varieties that grew there. 

One of the reasons that heritage varieties are easily lost is that they cannot be regrown from an apple pip. Apple blossom can be pollinated by bees visiting a range of different trees, so the seeds have a different genetic mix to the trees the fruit grow on. Excitingly, this means that anyone can grow a new apple variety in their own garden, but there is no knowing if it will produce a deliciously sweet fruit, or a small and bitter one.

For an apple variety to be regrown with identical genetics (and therefore fruit), a small branch or twig (scion) from the tree needs to be skilfully grafted on to a new rootstock. The twig fuses to the rootstock and grows into a new tree, from which many other scions can be taken and regrown. In this way, a single tree can be multiplied many thousands of times and be growing (in part) all over the world.

For example, every Bramley tree comes originally from a single tree in a garden in Nottinghamshire, grown from a pip by a young woman around 200 years ago. It is likely that the pip came from another apple tree growing in the garden, and was a chance crossing that turned out to produce an exceptional apple, with the Bramley industry now worth £50m.

As for our own apples, as well as enjoying apples with breakfast, lunch and dinner, we preserve as many as we can peel and chop as compote to serve in the B&B throughout the winter, and press everything that remains by the end of October to make our own apple juice and apple cider vinegar, both available in our shop

If you would like to visit our orchards and learn how to prune and graft your own fruit trees, we will be running another of our popular Pruning and Grafting courses in February.

Mariel runs the farm office. She has a background in conservation and environmental education and is passionate about encouraging everyone to connect with the nature around them.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

Family: Asteraceae/Compositae

Also known as: Wild sunflower, Velvet dock, Scabwort, Horseheal, Allicampane, Elf dock, Elf wort, Else dock, Enula campana, Horse elder, Alant, alant camphor, Yellow starwort, Marchalan.

Parts Used: Root and rhizome (flowers in Chinese medicine).

Introduction: Elecampane is a large, statuesque perennial, up to 2 metres tall, with attractive yellow, daisy flowers and downy leaves that can grow a foot long. It is native to Europe and Northern Asia. The root is thick and mucilaginous, with a delicious pungent and aromatic taste and a camphoraceous smell. 

Elecampane is suitable for all ages and is especially useful for those feeling run down and debilitated. It cleanses toxins from the body, stimulates the immune and digestive systems and helps combat bacterial and fungal infections. The root is used as a warming expectorant, excellent for relieving catarrh, colds, asthma, bronchitis and other chest infections and taken hot it helps to bring down fevers and increases the circulation. It has long been popular as a remedy for TB. It warms and invigorates the digestion and its bitters stimulate the flow of bile from the liver. 

History/Folklore/Traditional Uses: Elecampane’s Latin name apparently comes from Helen of Troy as the plant was said to spring from her tears as they fell to the ground when she was taken away by Paris. Others say that Helen of Troy carried a bouquet of elecampane with her while being abducted from Sparta. The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded elecampane as something of a cure-all for ailments including dropsy, menstrual disorders, digestive upsets and what Galen described as “passions of the hucklebone” which is probably sciatica.  It was also used to remedy coughs, bronchitis, asthma and catarrhal congestion. Culpeper said it is “very effectual to warm a cold, windy stomach” while John Gerard recommended elecampane for “the shortness of breath.” 

The root was also believed to have healing powers beyond the body. It was burned on charcoal to sharpen psychic powers and to create an atmosphere of protection. To the Anglo-Saxons elecampane was the remedy for “elf-shot” and averting the evil eye, which explains some of the plant’s common names such as “elf-wort” and “elf-dock.” It was considered that the work of elves was responsible for the onset of a number of illnesses. When made into incense elecampane has been used to purify candidates for initiation and is considered to be helpful in times of stress, grief, melancholy or depression. Apparently the Native Americans used elecampane to help them feel more connected to the earth.

Contra-Indications: Avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding. Contra-indicated in diabetes and heart problems. Large doses can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Possible reactions in people allergic to Asteraceae family pollen (chrysanthemum, chamomile, ragweed, daisy). Caution in inflammation. 

Herb/Drug Interactions: No drug herb interactions reported but diabetics should monitor their blood glucose as inulin may inhibit glucose absorption. 

Growing: Propagate by sowing seeds, barely covering them. Alternatively divide roots in spring or autumn. Elecampane will grow happily in moist soil and sun or semi-shade. It grows 2-5′ (60 – 150cm) high and flowers in July and August. It makes a good decorative plant for the herb garden or the back of a flower border. It self-seeds easily if flower heads are left. It is best harvested in the autumn from plants that are two years old, and can be dried for later use.

Anne runs a seasonal course in experiential herbalism at Trill Farm, using the herb gardens and hedgerows to teach the practical side of using herbs.

Grey Long-Eared Bats

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

The grey long-eared bat is one of the UK’s rarest mammals. Their population is restricted to southern England, where they hunt for moths and other insects over wildflower meadows and marshes. These habitats support a wide array of insects, in large numbers and diversity of species – making these areas the perfect feeding ground for grey long-eared bats. Trill Farm ticks all the boxes; not only are there foraging habitats aplenty, the farm also supports a nationally important colony, roosting in the roof space of the Manor Barn.

The grey long-eared bat is one of the UK’s rarest mammals. Their population is restricted to southern England, where they hunt for moths and other insects over wildflower meadows and marshes. These habitats support a wide array of insects, in large numbers and diversity of species – making these areas the perfect feeding ground for grey long-eared bats. Trill Farm ticks all the boxes; not only are there foraging habitats aplenty, the farm also supports a nationally important colony, roosting in the roof space of the Manor Barn.

As much as a mixed habitat within the landscape is important, of equal importance is that of connectivity through the landscape. Bats tend to use linear features to navigate their way through the landscape, to get from their roosts to their foraging areas. Hedgerows, watercourses, rough grassland strips and arable margins, all provide opportunities for bats to get from A to B. If these linear features are managed in a way to support lots of insects, all the better – they will then provide foraging opportunities along the way.

Since 2017, the Bat Conservation Trust, as part of the national ‘Back from the Brink’ program, has been working with Trill Farm to monitor and raise awareness of this species and promote positive land management for grey long-eared bats and a range of other wildlife. Most recently, we have been working together with Wildscreen, to capture images of this elusive nocturnal creature – so watch this space for some very rare footage!

Craig Dunton is a landscape ecologist working with the Bat Conservation Trust and monitoring the Grey Long Eared Bats here at Trill Farm.

To find out more about the project, or for advice on land management for bats, email cdunton@bats.co.uk or visit ‘Back from the Brink’.

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